Occasionally I hear the expression “better angels of our nature”. When I read Flannery O’Connor’s stories, I think of that expression – not because it represents her characters and plots but because she seems to write about characters and situations that reflect the EXACT OPPOSITE of this phrase.
I finished reading the first four stories in her well-known collection A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. Her characters are not necessarily likable, but I couldn’t help but get drawn into their thoughts and feelings.
I had read the title story prior to now and remembered the chilling ending. Knowing how the story ended made everything about the rest of the story a foreshadowing of what would happen – which made the ending even more chilling. Feeling both sympathy and anger for the grandmother during her continuous yammering made the story unsettling. I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the Misfit criminal’s own yammering about how Jesus “threw everything out of balance”. I’ve realized that O’Connor uses a significant amount of Christian imagery in her writing but these are by no means your typical Sunday School stories. While I was reading “A Good Man is Hard To Find” , I kept thinking that Joel and Ethan Coen could probably make a great film version.
“The River” continues with more religious ideas as a small boy gets taken by his babysitter to be baptized. O’Connor weaves themes of blind faith and reasonable doubt into the preacher and the crowd that the boy encounters at the river. The ending was not unexpected as the boy takes the preacher’s religious language literally with some unpleasant results.
I couldn’t help but like Lucynell, the old woman and Mr. Shiftlet, the vagrant worker in spite of what they did to Lucynell, the daughter, in “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”. As the story progressed, I’d ask myself “Why would I like these people?” Maybe O’Connor wants readers to ask that question?
I think one of the longest climbs up a flight of stairs occurred in “A Stroke of Good Fortune” . Thirty-four year-old Ruby, while she climbs the steps, lets the reader know about her younger brother, Rufus, returning from war, her husband, Bill Hill (I liked that name), and Madame Zoleeta, who has predicted her physical ailment will end in “a stroke of good fortune”. The reader never fully understands Ruby’s problem; however, several physical conditions are thrown around. By the time Ruby gets to the top of the steps she is rather winded – and so is the reader.
Of these four, I believe the title story was my favorite. I’m looking forward to reading more of Flannery O’Connor’s stories in the near future. Have you ever read any of her stories or novels? What are your thoughts? What was your favorite?